After breezing through its non-conference schedule, the UW men’s soccer team starts its Big Ten season against one of the conference’s best teams in Indiana. The game, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, is the first big test for Wisconsin.
Indiana, currently ranked 14th nationally in the NSCAA/Adidas poll, will also be playing in its first Big Ten game. Although Indiana will be one of Wisconsin’s main threats for the conference title, Wisconsin has extra motivation to beat the Hoosiers. Since 1995, the Hoosiers have not lost to the Badgers. In fact, before last year’s 0-0 tie, Indiana had actually beaten Wisconsin 14 consecutive times.
Although this year’s team has never tasted any success against Indiana, the defeats have only made the Badgers more motivated.
“I love playing against Indiana; they’re a very competitive team,” senior forward Victor Diaz said. “You learn from that, and it’s a great feeling to play against a team that is going to be there and going to be competitive.”
Early in the season, Wisconsin appeared to be in top form, going undefeated in the first five games of the season, including a shutout of Santa Clara. Although Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Binghamton broke the unbeaten streak, the team still appears to be heading in a positive direction.
“I think we’ve been doing pretty well,” Diaz said. “This is the best start we’ve had so far since I’ve been here, so it’s a good sign to head into the Big Ten.”
The loss to the Bearcats in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Classic temporarily dropped Wisconsin out of the national polls from its 21st ranking. Despite not getting the national attention Indiana has this season, the Badgers feel they are up to par with the Hoosiers.
“Rankings don’t really mean anything to me because it’s just a number,” senior defenseman Andy Miller said. “Any team can be beaten that day.”
Miller’s approach is especially fitting in light of Indiana’s early season loss. Despite being ranked third in the national polls after their first game, the Hoosiers suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss to an unranked Dartmouth team.
“We just treat this like any other match,” Diaz said. “We know Indiana is a very good team, but I think we have a chance to beat them.”
To beat the Hoosiers on the road, Wisconsin is going to have to play even better than it did during its successful early season stretch. Indiana’s Chay Cain has recorded three shutouts in the first six games of the season en route to giving the Hoosiers the second best goals against average in the Big Ten. The key to the match, according to head coach Jeff Rohrman, is to be aggressive.
“I think there’s some things we can do that can give them some problems in terms of our ability to get forward transition,” Rohrman said. “Indiana’s a team that likes to play in the midfield so we have to present that as a challenge and try to win things through our good defending and then be good in transition as far as getting out of that.”
Although the Badgers have been unable to defeat the Hoosiers recently, last year’s 0-0 tie only serves as a reminder that the teams are starting to even up.
“I thought last year we played them well here,” Rohrman said. “I thought that game could have gone well either way.”
In addition to being a rivalry game, the match will also serve as a strong indicator of how these teams will do in Big Ten play.
With the teams more evenly matched this year, the difference maker could very well come in a single play.
“It’s going to come down to one or two moments in the game when we just have to be prepared to take advantage of our opportunities,” Rohrman said. Whenever that moment may come, expect the Badgers to be prepared to take advantage of it.
“We know we got to come out real hard,” Miller said. ”Nobody’s going to be not ready to play.”